Thursday 27 June 2019

Leo Varadkar's controversial €5m SCU unit to be 'wound down' by July

John Concannon.
John Concannon.

Cormac McQuinn Political Correspondent

THE government's controversial Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) is to be "wound down" by July, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Cabinet.

It comes after Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser conducted a review of the unit which has received heavy criticism from opposition politicians in recent weeks.

Mr Fraser's probe is understood to have been discussed by ministers this morning.

Sources said Mr Varadkar said that the SCU is to be "wound down" by July.

Staff from the unit are to be redeployed elsewhere.

The SCU, headed by PR guru John Concannon,  had a Budget of €5m and employed 15 staff.

Mr Fraser's review found no evidence of a breach of the Civil Service Code by civil servants in the SCU, whether by seeking favourable coverage for Fine Gael candidates or otherwise.

The Taoiseach's Department said in a statement: "Having taken a wide range of issues into consideration, as set out in the review report, the Secretary General has recommended that the Strategic Communications Unit should be wound down.

"And that the Department of the Taoiseach should revert to a reformed Government Information Service, with a smaller budget, less staff and a more limited role than the SCU. 

"The review also recommended a number of steps to be taken across Government Departments to preserve valuable and necessary reforms to ensure value for money, professionalisation and modernisation in government communications activity.

"There will be a transition period until July 2018 for the implementation of all of the recommended next steps as set out in the Review."

The opposition has claimed that the SCU, set up by Mr Varadkar last year to modernise government communications, has become a 'spin unit' for the government.

There was criticism of how the unit promoted the government's Project Ireland 2040 plans amid claims that paid-for coverage promoted Fine Gael candidates.

Such allegations were denied by Mr Varadkar.

Earlier this month Mr Varadkar conceded that the SCU had become a "distraction from the work of government".

He told RTÉ at the time that abolishing the unit was one of the options being reviewed by Mr Fraser.

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